Savannah River Site has begun efforts to process and permanently dispose of six metric tons of surplus non-pit plutonium.
The down-blending process in the SRS K Area Complex blends plutonium oxide with an inert material, producing a mixture that is more secure and not usable for weapons. The startup of this work Thursday resumes a process that SRS successfully carried out in the HB Line Facility in 2012 to down-blend plutonium, according to a Department of Energy news release. After material is diluted it will be stored at the SRS Solid Waste Management facility and will be placed in the appropriate queue of material that will ultimately be disposed of at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
The Energy Department’s decision to down-blend this material and ship it to WIPP was announced in March.
This project does not involve plutonium originally intended for disposition through the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility, according to the release. However, the same down-blending process is the same one that NNSA has proposed as an alternative to the MOX approach.
“With today’s startup, we are taking an important step in fulfilling the Energy Department’s commitment to move plutonium out of South Carolina and into permanent disposal,” said Jack Craig, SRS manager.
Extensive preparations for Thursday’s startup included a revision of the facility’s safety analysis to reflect the down-blending process, developing operational and safety procedures, training personnel on the down-blending process, and performing a readiness assessment to demonstrate that the facility’s workforce and equipment are prepared to begin down-blending operations.